A Temporary Breakthrough of Glory
When Jesus was transfigured in the presence of His closest disciples, His divine glory broke forth, brighter than the sunrise. In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul marvels at this transformative moment when Christ gave a glimpse of His exalted majesty.
But then we read in Matthew’s gospel in chapter 17, verse 1: “Now after six days, Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves, and He was transfigured before them.” Now we really hardly ever use the word “transfigure” in our vocabulary. There’s a passage in the Battle Hymn of the Republic that is, “Glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.” But apart from that, we just about never use this term, except with reference to this event. There is another word in English, however, that is used more frequently, and it is the word that does not translate the Greek word that is used here, but it transliterates it. That is, it just brings it right over into the English language, and it is the word, “metamorphosis.” We’ve heard of Ovid’s poetic work, which was written under the title “Metamorphosis.” When we were children and took science in elementary school, our first exposure to the idea to metamorphosis was with the extraordinary, interesting experience of the creation of a butterfly. It begins as a worm, a caterpillar who spins a cocoon. And after a period of dormancy, out of this cocoon emerges the magnificently beautiful butterfly. What a transformation, because that’s what the word “metamorphosis” means. “Meta” means “across” or “with,” and morphology is the study of form. And so, really, the word “transformation” means the same thing as the word “metamorphosis,” and we witness that kind of transformation when the worm becomes the butterfly.
And so, what the gospel writers are saying here is that Jesus took apart His close inner circle of disciples—Peter, James, and John—and while they were talking with Him, suddenly before their eyes, Jesus undergoes this startling transformation. And the transformation has to be understood as a temporary breakthrough of glory, because listen to the language that is used to describe what these men saw: “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” Those are the two graphic images that describe Him: His face began to shine like the sun.